Booksellers use standard terms to describe the condition of the used books that they sell. The specific meaning of each term can vary with the individual seller but broad definitions are widely understood.
- As New is self-explanatory. It means that the book is in the state that it should have been in when it left the publisher. The is the equivalent of Mint condition in coin collecting.
- Fine (F or FN) is As New but allowing for the normal effects of time on an unused book that has been protected. A fine book shows no damage.
- Very Good (VG) describes a book that is worn but untorn. For many collectors this is the minimum acceptable condition for all but the rarest items.
- Good (G) is (as an old bookselling joke has it) not very good. It is used to describes the condition of an average used worn book that is complete.
- Fair shows wear and tear but all the text pages and illustrations or maps are present. It may lack endpapers, half-title, and even the title page.
- Poor describes a book that has the complete text but is so damaged that it is only of interest to a buyer who seeks a reading copy. If the damage renders the text illegible then the book is not even poor.
There is no standard term for books in a condition below poor. Their normal fate is to be discarded or to be broken into individual pages if these have any value.
For a book to have value these conditions apply:
YOUR BOOK SHOULD HAVE A DUST JACKET, if it was originally published with one. The dust jacket is subject to the same grading standards as the book. A significant portion of a collectible book's value is because the book is "complete" with the dust jacket. It drops value if the dust jacket is missing or of low grade.
FIRST EDITION. It’s the first edition, first printing that usually has collector value. This is the edition that was published in limited quantities. Many first editions are easily identified, while others can be very difficult. Professional booksellers use many references to determine a book’s edition. You may have to do some research to determine if a book is first edition. Even within a first edition there may be several printings and the later printings decline in value.
YOUR ‘OLD BOOK’ is not valuable just because it’s old. An old book still has to be scarce and in demand and in collector condition. Collectors rarely buy a book in poor condition because of age. There’s no such thing as an old book in poor condition being in fine condition 'for it's age'.
IF YOU HAVE missing or damaged volumes in a set of books, the set has lost much, if not all, of its value.
YOU MAY FIND a range of values pertaining your book by visiting internet book-selling sites. These sites can be useful, but you need to be aware that the sellers offering these books may have a wide variety of experience and professionalism. This partially explains why there is often a wide variety of prices asked for similar books. Typically, the most realistic values are found in the first ten or fifteen books being offered (that are similar to yours), beginning with the lowest priced book. This establishes a range of probable market value for your book.